The Paradox of Planning: The Controlled Materials Plan of World War II
NBER Historical Working Paper No. 83
According to most standard accounts of the mobilization of the U.S. economy in World War II, things started out badly because the agency nominally in charge, the War Production Board, lacked sufficient authority and relied on faulty techniques. But then the War Production Board installed the famous Controlled Materials Plan, a form of central planning, which solved the major problems and turned disaster into triumph. Here we re-examine the Plan and argue that it was too little and too late to account for the success of the mobilization. As an alternative we argue that the delay in the flow of munitions may simply have been the inevitable result of time-to-build and that a good deal of coordination happened through the market. The appropriate historical analogy may not be form of European central planning, but rather the American gold rush of 1849.
This paper was revised on July 29, 2013
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